Considering a move to a leadership position at a new company can be daunting, but it's possible to position yourself for success early on in the process. Here are tips from executive coaches and C-suite members on how to find the best C-level position for the next phase of your career.
1. Assess yourself, and what you want from your next job
Before launching any search, step back and take account of where you are in your career, what's been missing, and what you would like to find in your next position, said Colin Moore, partner at Essex Partners, a career advisory firm specializing in senior executive career management and transition counseling.
"Don't shortchange yourself when setting goals—if you are really clear on what you want, that's something we observe really empowers an individual in the marketplace," Moore said. "A key ingredient of why some people get hired versus others is the people who are networking with them or interviewing them sense the passion and vision."
Bridget Duffy, chief medical officer of Vocera Communications and Vocera's Experience Innovation Network, said her guiding career principle is "Know your gifts." Then, define the requirements of the work environment that will enable you to use those gifts, taking into account location, travel, remote versus in office, and other factors.
Avoid: Launching your search too quickly
"Launching too quickly is sometimes the biggest mistake, not having thought through how to approach the marketplace," Moore said. "People are always going to ask 'What are you looking for and how can I help?' Be ready with clear, profound, articulate answers to those questions."
This is especially true for a C-level employee who has been terminated from their position, said Caroline Stokes, executive coach and headhunter, and founder of executive search firm Forward Human Capital Solutions. "Take time to recover," Stokes said.
About 60% to 70% of most executive jobs are won with some element of networking, Moore said. The remainder are often found through recruiting firms, with a smaller piece found through online searches.
"The most productive channel in our experience is networking," Moore said. "It plays an ever-increasing level of importance in how C-level executives explore their options and transition most successfully."
It's common for senior executives with a long tenure at one company to have well-developed networks within their organization, but not much in the way of external networks, Moore said. There are a variety of approaches for a C-level executive to strengthen their network, he added. First, you should assess who is already in your network who you can reconnect with, such as old employers, former classmates and board members, and people in your community.
"You need to look at it as a very thoughtful assessment of the resources that will help introduce you to the types of organizations where you're most likely to find the C-level opportunities you're looking for," Moore said. This could also include connecting with principles at top professional services firms such as McKinsey and Forrester, who have market intelligence and contacts at companies you may be interested in.
Networking can also turn an executive on to companies that have not yet declared their need for a certain position, but may have internal movement or restructuring. This would put you ahead of the hiring model, Moore said.
Avoid: Contacting too many people
Be selective about who you contact in your network for information, Stokes said. Don't send your resume to everyone. It may also be important to be discreet about your search, if you don't want your current company to know that you are looking elsewhere.
3. Develop your resume and LinkedIn presence
C-level executives looking for a new job should have an updated resume with all of their major accomplishments listed. But sometimes updating your resume means deleting irrelevant roles, said Ted Chan, founder and CEO of CareDash. "Executives have all done a lot, and want to list everything they've ever done," Chan said. "I secured my latest CEO job when I hired an executive coach who had me delete roles from my resume to make it more focused."
Moore also encourages company leader to have a substantial LinkedIn presence. This should include a fully-developed profile that mirrors your resume, so all of your marketing materials are cohesive. It also means actively participating in LinkedIn discussions or blogs. "You will be presenting yourself as a prepared, thoughtful, targeted executive, as opposed to somebody who just starting to pick up the phone and call people," Moore said.
C-level executives can also use LinkedIn to determine the career paths of others in positions you are interested in, and the culture of organizations you may want to target, Stokes said. Looking at open positions there and on other job boards can also help you brush up on the most recent skills demanded in your industry to help you prepare for an interview, she added.
Avoid: Posting about your search on social media
Do not post on social media that you are seeking work, Stokes said—especially if you've been terminated. Allowing people to see how long your job search takes is also not a good idea. "It devalues your professional brand," she said.
4. Get in touch with a recruiter or headhunter
Most companies put a high priority on finding the right C-level executive, and will entrust the task to seasoned recruiting firms that know the marketplace, and to a targeted networking campaign, Moore said. In the event that you do not want your current company to know that you are searching for a new job, a recruiter can help you reach a new network, he said.
If you are terminated at the C-level, you should negotiate to have the services of a career management firm included in your severance package, Moore said.
Avoid: Accepting a position too quickly
"Avoid moving too fast, or taking a position because you're fearful you won't find anything else," said Duffy. Women also need to ensure to negotiate an offered position. "As a woman, if you don't have the right title or report to the right place, it's hard to lead effectively," Duffy said. "You have to negotiate that up front, and make sure the role enables you to be effective."
5. Offer a vision and a strategy
Tech leaders need to ensure they are very current on all of the developing technology trends, and how the technology infrastructures at companies they are targeting are working and evolving. "Tech is a key component of a strategy of any successful organization," Moore said. "At the C-level, the knowledge and nuts and bolts of credentials are kind of assumed. What people are looking for in tech leaders and other C-level executives is a person who can be a strategist and a fundamental change agent to benefit the company and the markets it serves."
Proving you have that capability will help you market yourself to companies, he added.
Avoid: Marketing yourself as only a technologist
Even in the tech industry, being a leader requires dealing with people more than technology, said Lance Hayden, chief privacy officer of ePatientFinder. "Leadership is the realm of politics, emotions, and inspiration," he said. "The great technology leaders I've met all eventually made that leap."
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Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.